Finding new restaurant menu ideas can seem challenging to even the most seasoned chef, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you serve up fine dining dishes or baked goods, your menu is at the core of everything you do as a hospitality business. The dishes you serve will become synonymous with your restaurant’s brand and will be one of the main reasons customers walk through your doors.
When it comes to choosing what you include in your menu, you should take as much consideration, if not more, as you did when choosing its name and concept. So whether you’re opening up a restaurant for the first time or you’re just looking to refresh your menu, we have you covered with some tips that will make your culinary quest a lot easier.
- Keep a constant stream of inspiration
- Talk to your staff and customers
- Analyze your current menu
- Think about your concept and theme
- Focus on the ingredients
- Keep it simple
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Keep a constant stream of inspiration
Let’s face it, it’s normal to get stuck. Getting inspired at a moment’s notice can be tough for most people, but there are ways to add sources of inspiration to your day that make it easier to expand your imagination.
Inspiration can take many different forms and can come from the most unlikely sources—whether that’s taking a walk around the block to clear your head, eating at another restaurant or even just doing research. If you’re trying to find new items to add to your restaurant menu, it’s easier to compile ideas on a regular basis, rather than hoping for inspiration to strike when you need it most. Keep a list going where you jot down different ideas as they come to mind and supplement that with routine activities that help you brainstorm.
Watch cooking videos and shows
Even though you’re already a chef or restaurant owner, it’s impossible to know everything there is to know about cooking. Keeping yourself educated on new cooking styles and recipes will help keep your menu fresh and relevant. Even just giving yourself time to watch videos on YouTube or following popular chefs or restaurants on social media on a weekly basis will give you a visual source of inspiration that can give you new ideas to add to your list.
Sign up for newsletters
Videos aren’t the only way to get inspired. Signing up for industry websites or specific social media platforms like Pinterest will provide you with a steady stream of articles or ideas right in your inbox—no need for researching on a regular basis. Make reading a part of your morning routine to get the creative juices flowing.
Try out other restaurants
For inspiration, there’s nothing better than the real thing. Connecting with food should be a key part of your menu idea exploration. Since cooking is already a big part of your routine, why not try something different? If you find yourself stuck trying to find creativity in your kitchen environment, it might be time to take a step outside. Start out by trying different restaurants and look for competitors or cuisines that are completely different from what you do. Making sure to take the time to step into the perspective of a customer can add a twist to your regular train of thought and help you discover new cuisines that can challenge and inspire the way you cook.
Talk to staff and customers
Who knows your restaurant better than your staff? Your staff knows the ins and outs of your kitchen and front of house—they talk to customers on a regular basis and might even have new menu ideas of their own that are worth listening to.
Two minds are better than one, and an entire kitchen staff brainstorming can definitely help you look at things a different way. Set a brainstorming session on a regular basis and give your staff the task of coming up with new ideas. When the time comes to refresh your menu, you will already have a bank of ideas to read through.
Your staff isn’t the only one you should listen to. Customers are a big part of your reason for existing and having their input can give you a unique perspective. Make sure to check in with your regulars to understand what their favorites are, and even if there are things they’d like to see on the menu that isn’t there. Taking their input shows you care, and that you value their opinion.
Analyze your current menu
If you have an existing menu, this should serve as the starting point of your research. While some restaurants might want to completely start fresh and scrap their entire menu, you need to think about the customers you’ve built and what they’ve come to expect from your restaurant.
Starting from scratch might seem like a tempting idea, but ultimately it can result in loss of customers. Start off with some menu engineering and take a look at your customer favorites: what do they have in common? Next, take a look at your duds, or the dishes that aren’t popular or profitable: why aren’t those working? Finally, take a look at everything in between. With a restaurant POS like Lightspeed, you can easily take a look at which dishes aren’t popular, profitable or adding to your brand.
Taking the time to objectively look at your menu dish by dish will give you a better understanding of where you stand and where you need to improve.
Think about your concept and theme
Your menu is intrinsically linked to your restaurant’s brand and your overall concept and theme. In order for your theme to be felt throughout the restaurant, it needs to shine in your menu.
If you’re creating a new restaurant menu or refreshing an existing one, your theme needs to be clear when looking at your menu design and the combination of dishes in your menu. If you’re editing an existing menu, you need to be careful that the dishes you’re removing or adding, aren’t also completely changing your original theme (unless that’s your goal).
We’re all familiar with menus that aim to please and have endless options. And while there’s definitely something that can be said for having an option for everyone, it’s also important for your restaurant menu to show what you’re great at and for that to resonate with your theme.
If you want to be known as a fine dining seafood restaurant, for example, the majority of your items should revolve around this type of cuisine. If you start adding a lot of beef dishes, or randomly adding new dining trends, your theme starts to get muddled.
Before you start to work on your restaurant menu ideas, make sure you have a clear idea of what your restaurant concept or theme is. Once you have that it’ll be much easier to start to narrow down the new changes you want to make to your menu.
Adding seasonal trends
With Instagram and other social media platforms, trends have become a huge part of the restaurant industry. While it might be easy to get sucked into offering the next new thing, you need to ask yourself, does this fit with my theme? Adding a trendy new dish to your menu is tempting, but think about your long-term vision first.
There are ways, however, to incorporate new trends to keep your restaurant relevant. Instead of just adding a trendy dish, find a way to make a similar twist for your restaurant. This way you’re still offering something new that customers want, but making sure it aligns with your theme and has your restaurant’s brand and personality in it. If there’s no way to make it work? It might be best to avoid it.
Focus on the ingredients
Ingredients are a core component of your menu, and if you plan them out correctly, they can help you be more efficient. Some things you should always consider when planning out ingredients for your new restaurant menu ideas include:
- Understanding your supply chains
- Using versatile ingredients
- Opting for local ingredients
If you’re a new restaurant, first you need to figure out your supply chains and understand what’s at your disposal. What types of ingredients can you get that will be as fresh as possible and well help set the tone for your menu? Understanding this will let you know what room you have to play with and what types of dishes you can create.
Next, you have to choose your ingredients. Which ingredients are essential for your menu? Are there ingredients that can be used in a multitude of ways to help build different dishes? If so, make sure these ingredients are the cornerstone of your menu. They will help tell a story and bring your theme to life while making your kitchen efficient by utilizing the ingredients to their fullest potential. This doesn’t mean using the same ingredients for every dish, but having key ingredients sprinkled throughout your menu will help make a stronger story.
Finally, local ingredients. While this in itself has become a trend, it’s a trend for all the right reasons. Using local ingredients helps stimulate the economy and support your community, while at the same time solidifying your restaurant as an important part of your neighborhood. Opting for local ingredients will help you deliver fresh dishes while adding to the personality of your restaurant brand.
Keep it simple
Displaying a strong theme doesn’t necessarily mean having references everywhere—it’s more about opting for quality, instead of quantity.
Creating a menu that uses relevant ingredients and focuses on select specialties that highlight your theme is a great way to get your message across efficiently. When it comes to choosing how many menu items to include, less is definitely more. For fast-food and quick service restaurants, try aiming for six menu items per category (starters, meat dishes, desserts, etc) and, for fine-dining restaurants, aim for seven starters and desserts and ten main courses. At the end of the day, you’re not trying to fill up your menu with dishes just for the sake of it, you’re trying to build a narrative through your menu that’s reflected in the unique dishes you include.
Take Montreal restaurant, Tinc Set, as an example. This restaurant lives and breathes its back alley rotisserie chicken theme through its crafty decor and menu that’s both short and sweet. By focusing on what they do best, rotisserie chicken with some additional starters and desserts and artisanal wines, their menu reflects their theme in a simple and successful way.
Think about the complexity
Another thing to consider when planning out your new restaurant menu ideas is how easy or complex they are to prepare. If you’re a fine dining restaurant that focuses on innovative and high-end dining, it might make sense to include menu items that are more complex in their preparation and might take more time. For most restaurants, however, it’s important to keep the level of complexity on the lower end and opt for dishes that are easy to prepare so that you’ll be able to tackle a large number of orders without significant, if any, delays.
Let your restaurant menu tell a story
A successful menu is one that reflects your restaurant’s theme and tells a story in a clear and simple way. Your story might change or might need an update every once in a while, which means you should keep these steps in your back pocket and review your menu on a regular basis.
Whether you’re opening a new restaurant, or you’re just adding new dishes, don’t forget that your menu is a key touchpoint with customers and one that could decide the future of your restaurant.
Need help setting up your new menu? Talk to one of our experts to find out how Lightspeed can help you get set up.